Tag Archives: Cambodia

Does everything happen for a reason?

You may call it whatever you’d like. Karma, luck, coincidence, universal connection, destiny… The list goes on describing the energy that created this beautiful episode.

I was flying from Japan on my way to Cambodia with a layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As I boarded the large flight, my fingers were crossed that I had a decent seat considering the 8 hour flight I had just finished from Tokyo.

I was tired.

A small internal leap for joy occurred when I spotted my cozy location next to a window with only one passenger next to me. Glorious!

Happily settling in to my new temporary space, I put my reading book and iPad in the seat back in front of me and wedged my water bottle between me and the wall. Delighted that I’d only have one person to climb over during my frequent bathroom needs, I nuzzled in like a puppy next to a fire.

An elderly woman gently sat down next to me and I greeted her with a smile and a nice to meet you, don’t worry I’ll keep to myself nod. I noticed she seemed unsettled and a bit frazzled. Within moments, I found out why. The angelic woman turned to me and with a fragile voice said, “My husband is ill and we were seated seperatly, would you mind switching with him so we can be together?”.
The selfish side of me was sad to depart from the best seat on the plane, but without hesitation, I replied with some sort of “Of course, no worries”. I packed up my nook and looked for the man eagerly making his way to swap spots with me.

Ah, indeed his donation of a chair was in the middle seat of the compact center section of the plane. I tried to hide my deep breath as I realized that to one side of me would be a newborn in the lap of mom and on the other was a tech savvy teenager with his head buried in whatever device was in his hands.

I grinned as I awkwardly climbed over the young woman attempting to maneuver matrix style to avoid hitting the infant or the diaper bag blocking the foot path. I plopped down and started to unpack in hopes that this would be more comfortable than I was imagining. As I guided the diaper bag out of my way, the stressed mom leans in my direction and starts with an apology, “Excuse me, I’m sorry.”

Oh great.

“I’m flying with my daughter and mother, but my mom was seated apart from us. Would you mind switching with her so she can help take care of my little girl?”.

Almost giggling and knowing that the next neighborhood couldn’t be worse than this one, I quickly agreed and loaded up once more. By this time the flight attendants were pacing the aisles, securing doors and requesting all passengers to be seated for take off. I finally found my third attempt at a permanent spot and with relief, it was in the aisle. Nobody to climb over, leaning room on one side and an elbow partner that clearly wasn’t going to be a Chatty Cathy. Too exhausted to unpack quite yet, I leaned back with eyes closed to meditate my way back to being centered.

A small tap on my hand alerted me to the man on my left who was ready to talk. He politely asked if I’d like the middle seat. What? Who wants the middle seat!? I kindly said “no thank you” as my eyes wandered to his quivering hands. Beaded with sweat and clearly anxious, I asked if he was nervous.

His response was clear, “I don’t like to fly”.

At this point it was routine, so I quietly stood for him to have the aisle. Suppressing my desire to either break down or laugh hestarically, I sat slowly in the middle seat, leaned back once more with my eyes closed and took a deep breath.

“That was really nice what you did”. I heard a voice next to the window. It was a youthful female with a kind tone and a genuine smile that greeted my sight when I peered over.
“Awh thanks…. He’s nervous” I whispered.
“No”, she said, “I’ve watched you go from seat to seat that landed you here and that’s really kind of you. Hi, I’m Bree”.

That is how Bree and I met and that was the first day of many adventures to come.

This flight included a lengthy discussion that surrounded wonderful topics from traveling to relationships, health to the definition of happiness. You would of thought we had a script in front of us judging from the ease of the organic conversation.

Here’s a photo from the very plane ride I described above.

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Proceeding this flight, we departed ways as I was volunteering in Phnom Pehn and she was off to connect with a friend outside of the city. We were able to meet up just for a moment with high hopes to plan a small reunion in Thailand.

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Several weeks later, we (with the beautiful help of the universe) came back together in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Ten days, uncountable miles on foot, tastes of shared dishes, shopping through thrift stores, local gatherings, a Thai massage and one cooking class… We had “bonded” to say the least.

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At the end of our time together, we had already discussed when and where the next connection would be. To save you the details, I’ll just tell you with joy and wonderful memories, that we landed our reunion in Barbados!

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Our departure from the island was on the same flight and allowed for an emotional babble to reminisce of our past and wishfully dream for the future. Where next? How soon? The answers are still yet to be discovered, but one thing is for sure… I have found a dear soul that has enhanced my journey beyond what I could of imagined. Here’s the last photo we took together on our way back to the U.S.

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Dear Bree,
I have 6 dollars and a bag of nuts…

BREE HAD A RESPONSE TO THIS POST:

“Dear Erika,
I remember that first plane ride all too well. I was exhausted [I had spent the entire 24 hours before with my Bali family soaking up every moment until my 4am flight out of Denpasar], terrified [I was heading out of my safe Bali bubble into a the real backpacking world, alone, with no preparation, and very little idea of what was ahead of me], devastated [you of all people know the high I was coming down from, having spent the most spectacular four weeks of my life on an island of love and healing]… and did I mention I was exhausted?

I was looking forward to sleeping the entire flight from KL to Cambodia. I was looking forward to nestling in my little window seat. I was looking forward to some silence to meditate on my time in and away from my piece of heaven. I was looking forward to wallowing in my own self pity and shed my tears in peace.

LUCKY FOR ME this ball of light – all smiles and silver rings with big eyes and even bigger smiles – sat down next to me and burst my pity bubble like some sort of star exploding into a supernova. Did I mention this supernova came prepared with a snack bag?

I remember our conversation. I remember Indian Santa Clause, as he has been fondly called since that moment on. I remember thinking, “Excuse me? People like you exist?” I remember feeling blessed all over again and coming around to the idea that my “Bali bubble” was actually just a “life bubble” all along and the happiness and love was all around.

I remember Cambodia – gorging on popcorn and hot sauce with Semhal like it was our last meal and marathoning movies with Candice on those harem beds.

I remember Thailand – running around like some sort of street food fiends, looking for the banana leaf with the most bizarre filling and stalking the egg lady like she was some sort of bounty we were hunting. Not to mention all the “you will never believe what happened to me at work…” moments.

I remember every grand adventure and giggle fit; every beautiful happy memory. But do you want to know what I remember most? I remember you cutting your Barbados trip two weeks short and waiting on me hand and foot; walking miles in the rain to pick up coconut water and medicine, calling every doctor on the island to see who could do a house call, preparing all my meals for me, washing and braiding my hair to make me feel a little more human, and most importantly making me laugh hysterically any chance you got. I remember thinking, “good lord, what have I done in my life to deserve such altruism, such friendship, such love?”

I still think those things almost every day. There are a handful of moments in my life that I can look back on as flashes of “Karma, luck, coincidence, universal connection, destiny” that visibly and drastically changed the course of my life. Your game of musical chairs on that small Malaysian airline… I’m too scared to even imagine my life without it.”

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My favorite Cambodian dish!

Once upon a time while volunteering in Cambodia, I took a walk in a local market to see what my tummy could find (shocking, right?). I rounded a corner and spotted out what appeared to be one of my favorite vegetables with some sort of goodness in the middle. Here are the actual photos from the quaint little market outside of Phnom Phen.

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I looked around for a seat, quickly realizing that the pint-size stool at my feet was the prime location to experience the meal I was about to order. Squatting low with knees in my chest, I pointed eagerly at the dish and singled for one slice, followed by my palms together in gratitide. Considering I was the tallest, whitest lady at the miniature table, I was being observed by several locals for my reaction to the first bite.

With the toddler spoon that matched my shoebox chair, I scooped up a bite and gave it a go.

How to make best friends in a foreign market:
Step1. Order something they don’t expect you to get.
Step2. Try it in front of them.
Step 3. React sincerely.

It didn’t take but a second for me to realize I had found my new favorite treat. Needless to say it became a daily routine to greet my new friends, squeeze into my usual seat (visualize Will Ferrel sitting in the classroom in the movie Elf) and indulging. Was this lunch… dessert? A meal or a snack? I have no idea but it was delicious!

When arriving back into the states I started research to find something that would closely resemble the magical taste of pumpkin custard or Lapov Songkya (ល្ពៅសង្ខ្យា).

To be honest, I have yet to find a recipe but I’ve had fun trying! Here was my most recent attempt (attempt: an act of trying to achieve something, typically one that is unsuccessful or not certain to succeed.)

Ingredients:
A buttercup squash (Pumpkin, Kombucha, Delicata, etc.)
4-5 Eggs (I used whole and some whites)
3/4 cup Coconut milk (it suggests cream or full fat, I used lite)
1/3 cup Sugar (I used coconut palm sugar)
1/2 tsp Salt
A dash of Cinnamon if you’re feelin spicy
Optional: In Cambodia they will often put shave ice and coconut over the top and drizzle with condensed sweetened milk. (See photos above)

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Cut open the top of your pumpkin the same way you would for a Halloween carving. Take a spoon and gut your squash. For the sake of my sanity, please save your seeds and eat those too… They do not belong in the trash! Thank you.

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Mix all of the ingredients saving the eggs for last.

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Grab a double boiler and fill with an adequate amount of water. Crank the heat until it’s boiling. Place your squash in the over sized steamer, cut side up. Poor the liquid into the hollowed out pumpkin and close the lid.

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Lower the heat and let the baby cook until the custard is cooked thoroughly and the pumpkin is tender. Remove and let cool.

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This is the part in which you eagerly slice into as you contain the water in your mouth before giving this amazing dish a try…

Or in my case, you slice into it and have all the undercooked insides come pouring out into the table as your heart breaks into tiny little hungry pieces. I’m not sure if this failure was the specific recipe, the substitutions I made or in fact, that I actually didn’t follow the recipe.

I have you know, I ate the pumpkin separately with dinner and enjoyed every bite! I took the insides (what should of been custard) added oats and ground flax seed, then poured it into a baking dish and made scrumptious bars out of it. Problem solved.

So, if you want to try this Cambodian delight, I highly suggest you google it yourself and find a recipe that you think will be golden. When you find it, let me know!

Roses are red, hearts are blue…

The Blue Heart Campaign raises awareness to fight human trafficking and it’s impact on society. This inspirational foundation puts positive energy into “encourage involvement and inspire action to help stop this crime”.

I was honored to be invited to the Blue Heart International launch party hosted by my dear friend Teav and her partners Missy and Blake. Teav was born in Cambodia during a genocide and escaped to America with with her parents when she was 7. Now, she’s a proactive woman shining light on a growing issue that needs attention. Pictured below is the glowing girls Teav and Missy.
Fun fact: They’re both pregnant!

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The elegant venue was held in the rolling hills of Lincoln, California. Let’s take a walk!

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Lining the walls were tables of art and accessories that were created by the lovely ladies in order to raise funds. From recycled clothing that we’re made into scarves, to paintings and sparkling jewelry.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve played with a stamp-pad, but what a perfect opportunity! Two fingerprints created the shape of a heart that marked the spot for your name. Adorable!

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My smiling date for the evening? Meet Freya. I starting doing her hair years ago and we immediately connected beyond the salon chair. Now she’s a dear friend who shares the love for travel, food and putting her creativity to positive use. What a perfect partner to compliment this evening!

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As people arrived, you could feel the love exude through kind conversation and genuine smiles.

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These are some of the precious girls that were rescued years ago and have chosen to be a positive part of their community.

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Cheerful tunes from this peaceful artist was a soft touch to enhance the already welcoming vibe.

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Let’s take a moment and appreciate the phenomenal caterer that filled the room with hand rolls, small bites and chilled sake. The owner of Mikunis restaurant, whom also has an incredible story that he shared with all of us, kept the seaweed moving. I met him when I was 10 years old learning to use chopsticks while sitting at his first tiny restaurant. Oh how we’ve both grown. Thank you Taro!

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After serving all of the grateful guests, Taro kicked off the speeches with his own story. One that included a pop quiz regarding his restaurant and the morals behind it. Guess who answered quickly and correctly? I’m now the proud owner of his recipe book!

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Moving on to the purpose of the evening in which we got to hear Teav, Missy and others speak from their hearts. Unsettling facts, personal stories and future goals were just a few of the topics shared from the front of the room.

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I’m confident to say the majority of the crowd was sniffling or gently holding a tissue to their eyes. A bitter sweet emotion seemed to capture everyone’s spirit… sympathetic yet hopeful. How do you feel when finding out that most of the girls are between 8-15 years old and are “sold” an average 25 times a day? Easier heard than truly thought about.

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A personal thanks to Teav for inviting me to this eye-opening event and presenting new opportunities with endless possiblities!

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…to be continued.

Part three of 2013

Part One and Part 2 did so well, I thought I’d bring an additional light-hearted post to wrap up what was yet another amazing year on the road. Lets just jump right into it!

Anything with a wheel honorable mentions:

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The runner up is a quirky little mobile that you should not be surprised that I found in Amsterdam. I’ve always loved the Dutch!

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And the winner is… a row of taxi’s that made for an excellent photo in Hoi An, Vietnam. I really enjoy the overall feeling of this picture, from the narrow angle to the smirk on the drivers face. It simply makes me smile.

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Creative carriages (or anything with wheels carrying cargo) honorable mentions:

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The runner up ranked high on my list due to the productive idea and the fresh goods that comes with it. My favorite food delivered from the farm right to my hands? Sign me up Santa Catalina, Panama!

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And the winner is… these guys! I like this photo because of the busy energy and the variety of actions that are happening. From cell phone use (he must get great service up there) to a few jumping on and off, this moving vehicle was a quality shot!

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Culture me this honorable mentions:

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After debating on the list and staring at these photos for way too long, it dawned on me that this is my list and I can do whatever I want (what a relief!). With that said, here are several “runners up” because this world is magical and I didn’t want to pick a winner. So there.

A gorgeous walk along the the river to a local market, all in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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The sky scraping cathedral in Cologne, Germany… What a climb!

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The unexplainable rocks of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

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The amazing lost city known as Machu Picchu in Peru will forever rank high in my most memorable journeys. It’s not an easy tour or quick museum visit, the entire trip start to finish makes it what it is.

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Top photos of 2013 – Part One

Time to reflect on the past year of traveling and give you my top picks for photos that I’ve placed in randomly themed categories.
After spending entirely too much time (that I thoroughly enjoyed) narrowing down from 18,000 pictures, here are the first 4 categories from 2013.

For Best facial expression, the honorable mentions are:

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The runner up is an entertaining shot from the base city of Aguascalientes, Peru. I don’t think we could ever capture this quality picture with all of its magnificent imperfections again. Well done Friends!

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…and the winner is my dear mother in response to the spider and mosquito filled room that we were staying in while volunteering in El Salvador. My personal favorite part of her reaction is the five finger spread. Thanks for being a trooper mom!

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Happy face honorable mentions:

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… and the winner is sweet Carina! She’s my German friend that I met years ago at Oktoberfest and recently got to reunite with in Costa Rica. This picture was taken directly after seeing her first monkey in real life (he’s the dark ball of animal in the background). We had been intently looking for days, so to capture this very moment was priceless. Her sincere excitement still remains a fond memory in my journey!

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Tastiest treat in a bowl honorable mentions:

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The runner up is a duo that I accidentally fell upon in Cambodia. Curious of the flavors, I ended up trying both and returning frequently to enjoy!

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…and the winner is the one and only sweet egg soup that Bree and I devoured every night until our departure.

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The Action photo honorable mentions are:

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The runner up is my energetic partner in island crime, Ryan from Barbados! Just give him anything to jump off of and he’s airborne within minutes. With his colorful style to match the vibrant water, this makes for a great action image!

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…and the winner is the unforgettable power shot taken at the top of Machu Picchu!

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I’ll close this post with my favorite photo of 2014 so far. Happy New Year!

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